The Plight of the “Average Joe” Dog

Today, I’m going to talk about something that is well known in rescue circles, but not something that people really shine the light on in social media. Today, I’m going to talk about the plight of the average shelter or rescue dog…the dog that is not emaciated, with bones sticking out, doesn’t have a cleft palate or three legs, didn’t make the  news because of some celebrity dog fighting case, and is therefore more likely to end up taking that short walk into some room where a syringe full of pink medicine ends his or her life.

Now, don’t get me wrong. It is GREAT that rescues take on these hard cases. Chako has taken on a lot of medical cases, such as little Sabrina (aka Oreo) who was blind from birth, Hank, who had a juvenile autoimmune condition and needed MANY months of treatment before he could be adopted, and Henry, who had one of the absolutely worst cases of demodex we’ve ever seen when he came to us (literally, small pieces of him were falling off as he waddled).


Sabrina was born blind and needed surgery to remove her deformed eyes so that she would not be susceptible to infections.

Let’s talk about the Michael Vick dogs. They got national media attention. They were flown to rescues all over the nation, thousands of miles away. Meanwhile, the shelter dogs in those communities thousands of miles away that didn’t have media cameras pointed at them languished in their kennels; many took their last breaths in those shelters. No cameras captured their last moments. Not enough people cared about them because they weren’t famous and didn’t come with large sums of money.

Let’s talk about the three-legged puppies, the swimmer’s puppies, the puppies with knuckling over (which Chako has taken, as well). These dogs do need homes, and yes, they are more expensive to rescue, certainly.


Spunky Brewster was a pup was pulled from a shelter. She suffered from a condition known as knuckling over, which is often caused by poor nutrition.

However, they also tend to get a lot of attention. People feel sorry for them. More people, it seems, become interested in adopting them and showering them with much-deserved love to make up for the hardships they’ve endured.

That is all perfectly okay. It is understandable. There’s absolutely NOTHING wrong with that.

But it does lead to an interesting collective phenomenon that ends up hurting the regular dog in a shelter or the regular stray–the one that doesn’t have media attention or a sad story or the cutest darn face you’ve ever seen. The one that’s just average looking, with no heart-tugging medical condition. The one that didn’t come from a celebrity dog fighter but whose history is unknown. That dog, few people want. That dog doesn’t have a compelling story. That dog doesn’t realize he’s not famous. That dog doesn’t understand that no one wants him because he is the the “average joe” of dogs.

Take a recent case of a seemingly stray dog that was photographed snuggled on a Teddy Bear. The organization that published the photo, Forgotten Dogs of the 5th Ward, tries to save many of the stray dogs in the area. They frequently photograph dogs. They cannot find foster homes or adopters for all the dogs. But this one dog, this one photo, called out to people. People demanded someone save that dog and asked why didn’t the rescue take him in.

The answer is simple and one many people don’t seem to understand: there aren’t enough foster homes. There aren’t enough people who want to adopt. Rescues have to make decisions all the time–logical, rational decisions. They have to choose which dogs to save and which dogs to pass by. Shelters often have to make the same decisions. This means that the dogs that have a special story, or a heart-tugging medical condition, or that have national media attention often get saved. They get people who ask to foster them. They often get adopters lining up for a chance to adopt them.

Another case in point: the dogs that came to Sacramento months ago from a South Korean meat farm ended up with massive media attention and a LINE of adopters wanting to take one home. Meanwhile, hundreds of other local “average” shelter dogs waited and waited. Some even died, still waiting.

This blog post is not about guilting anyone who steps up to take in a hard luck case. Those hard-luck dogs need to be adopted JUST AS MUCH as the “average Joe” dogs, of course. But the opposite is also true. The “average Joe” dogs are equally deserving.

So, next time you or someone you know thinks about adopting or fostering, all I hope is you’ll take a look at all dogs in need and work to find the best match for you, regardless of whether that dog has a sad story, lots of media attention, or is otherwise in the shadows–going relatively unnoticed in some shelter kennel or rescue foster home.

Mouse, an average dog who went unnoticed at the Sacramento County Shelter and is currently in a foster home.

Mouse, an average, soft-hearted dog who went unnoticed at the Sacramento County Shelter and is currently in a foster home, where she lives with another dog and two cats.

Saying Goodbye to Savvy, a “Pit Bull” ambassador

Today is the day I said goodbye to Savvy. Savvy has been my companion for almost 12 years. He’s been trained as a service dog and a therapy dog, passed his Canine Good Citizen test, his Delta Therapy dog test, and proven himself a true ambassador for his breed.  He’s done so much, but I can only cover a few of the joyful highlights.

Savvy has taught children about dog safety.


He was an avid activist, participating in protests against breed specific legislation and even attending California legislative sessions to stand against breed specific legislation.


He’s provided kisses at Chako’s UC Davis Kiss-A-Bull booth, and he even tried his hand at documentary work when featured in Beyond the Myth, a documentary about breed specific legislation.

Savvy teaching kids

He enjoyed his service dog work.


He also loved being one of Santa’s elves, delivering presents to those in need during the holidays. Some years he brought gifts to children; other years, he helped animals. Here he is delivering beds and other goodies to the Yuba animal shelter.

santa savvy

However, life is short, and all lives eventually come to an end. Savvy’s life came to an end a little too soon. He should have lived to a wonderful age of 15 or even 16, but Lymphoma stole the last few years from him.

There’s no right or wrong way to say goodbye to a friend. In my case, I focused on making Savvy’s last days as good as they could possibly be.

He got a photo shoot thanks to his good friend Joni Moore of Pawtography and Moore.

Savvy at the fireplace

Savvy at the fireplace

He went on small field trips

Field Trip to the park

He took quick car rides to enjoy the sights.

car ride

He even visited some of northern California’s dog-friendly wineries

wineries feb25winerytrip

He slept in.


He even got tucked in to keep him warm on the chilly mornings.sleeping in

He snuggled with new toys.


Savvy got special food from his friend Kris with VibraPet (chicken and steak, yum!)


Of course, he also got Hamburgers, since life is too short to always eat well.

hamburgers on the couch

His friends threw a party for him.


And, on his last day, Savvy got more hamburgers, with fries, and all the yummy junk food he could eat…

more hamburgers

Before he took his final sleep, free from the misery of lymphoma.


Goodbye, Savvy, my friend. Follow your buddy, Joey, like you did when you were just a wee pup.


My Pit Bull Valentine photo show!

It’s the month to spread love, and dogs are masters giving unconditional love. Since 1997, Chako has been rescuing Pit Bulls and spreading awareness. Below are some members of our Chako family who have found their forever valentines! Click any thumbnail below to start the slideshow or, for a simpler view, scroll down to read their stories!

When you’ve viewed the slideshow, head on over to our Facebook page to post a photo of your Pit Bull Valentine in the comments of our Valentine’s Day thread! (Thanks to Joni Moore of Pawtography and Moore).

  1. Annie came to Chako when she was abandoned at four weeks old in a dog park. Her foster mom, Suzi, fell in love with her and adopted her.

    Annie with her forever mom

    Annie with her foster mom turned forever Mom–Suzi!

  2. Cha Cha came to Chako deaf and with a broken leg. She had surgery to fix her leg and found a great foster Dad, Mike, then lucked out and found true love with her forever family!
    Cha Cha with her foster dad, Mike

    Cha Cha with her foster dad, Mike

    Cha Cha with her forever family.

    Cha Cha with her forever family.

  3. Mouse is a new Chako dog who came to us from the Sacramento County shelter. Here she is with Chako founder, Dawn Capp, while she waits to find her true forever love with a new family!

    Mouse is a Chako dog waiting for her new home. She's available for adoption and gets along great with dogs and cats! Here she is happy to be out of the shelter and snuggled up to Dawn, Chako's founder.

    Mouse is a Chako dog waiting for her new home. She’s available for adoption and gets along great with dogs and cats! Here she is happy to be out of the shelter and snuggled up to Dawn, Chako’s founder.

  4. Hank came to Chako as a 3-4 month old puppy with an autoimmune condition known as puppy strangles. After months of treatment and a foster family who stuck with him, he recovered and JUST celebrated his first birthday with his forever family!

    Hank with his forever family!

    Hank with his forever family!

  5. Star, now Tesla, needed surgery to remove a cancerous lump when she came to Chako. We got her all fixed up, and now this older gal is loving life with her new mom!

    Tesla with her mom.

    Tesla enjoys the sun with her forever mom.

  6. Nina was a youngster when she found her way into a Chako foster home, and now she’s doing great with her new family. She loves them, and they adore her!

    Nina really loves her family and they love her!

    Nina really loves her family and they love her!

  7. Darla was just a wee pup when she and her brother came to Chako and foster Dad Mike took them in. Mike and Darla fell in love, and now she’s his forever! Another Chako “foster failure!”


    Mike and Darla – True love, rescue style.

  8. Sirius had a bum leg when he went to his wonderful Chako foster home, and now he’s got a new family and a beautiful collar!

    Sirius (L) has a new forever family!

    Sirius (L) has a new forever family!

  9. Frankie liked to sing the blues when he was a pup looking for his forever home. Here he is, the apple of one particular little girl’s eye!

    Frankie is adored by one particular adorable little girl!

    Frankie is adored by one particular adorable little girl!

  10. Chako founder Dawn with her two dogs, Savvy and Soli. Soli is a Chako dog who was in the Yuba shelter at a mere 5 weeks, all alone. She was to be made available to whomever had his or her name drawn out of a box, so Chako volunteers showed up to make sure she went to a good place! Check out her video.

    Chako's founder with her two Pit Bull valentines!

    Chako’s founder with her two Pit Bull valentines!

  11. Chako volunteer Windigo is totally in love with her year-old gal, Dara!


    Dara and Windigo, true love.

  12. Daisy loves her former Chako foster mom, Mary. Daisy came to Chako from a bay area shelter, and she adores her forever family. Check out the happy family portrait below.
    Daisy and her forever family!

    Daisy lounges on the lap of her former Chako foster mom.

    Daisy and her forever family!

    Daisy and her forever family!

  13. Suzi is one extraordinary puppy foster mom. Here she smooches her newest Pit Bull valentine, Nimoy, who is up for adoption through Chako! This 14 week old boy is mellow as can be and loves dogs and cats.

    Nimoy wholeheartedly loves his Chako foster mom!

    If you’re doggie-lonesome and interested in finding your own Pit Bull Valentine, adopt a Pit Bull!

Could autoimmune conditions cause anxiety, fear, or behavior issues in dogs?

by Dawn C, M.S., J.D.

A recent NPR article has piqued my interest and had me thinking about something I’ve suspected and mentioned a few times in the past regarding many of the dogs I see in shelters, foster homes, and loving pet homes that have both behavior issues and allergies or other autoimmune conditions.

Could the two somehow be related?

At first glance, it seems counterintuitive. Anxiety, fear-based, or other behavior issues are based in the brain and generally involve neurochemistry. Allergies and autoimmune issues involve the immune system. However, I’ve noticed that a high percentage of dogs that exhibit fear-based, hyper-reactivity, or anxiety-based behaviors severe enough that their owners seek help often have moderate to severe allergies or other autoimmune issues.

Of course, lots of dogs have autoimmune or allergies issues and lots of dogs these days have behavior issues, so it makes sense, even if the two aren’t at all related, that a fair number of dogs would have both conditions, just as a coincidence.  Association doesn’t mean causation.

But some doctors are coming to just that conclusion, according to the article. “Dr. Roger McIntyre, a professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at the University of Toronto, tells Shots that he believes an upset in the “immune-inflammatory system” is at the core of mental illness and that psychiatric disorders might be an unfortunate cost of our powerful immune defenses….[I]t would be reasonable to hypothesize that a subpopulation of people with depression or bipolar disorder or schizophrenia ended up that way because an infection activated their immune-inflammatory system.”

I’m interested in hearing from dog owners:

  • How many of you have dogs with fear-based, anxiety, or other behavior issues (hyperarousal or reactivity, etc.) that also have allergies or other autoimmune conditions?
  • If your dog’s autoimmune issue gets better (either through treatment or seasonal changes), does his or her behavior improve?
  • How many of you have dogs with such behavior issues that have no allergies or autoimmune conditions?
  • How many of you have dogs with allergies or autoimmune issues that have no such behavior issues?

Let me know in the comments and/or take the poll below.

Eight Rules for Dog Foster Parents

Foster dog Raven, now adopted

Foster Dog Raven, now adopted!

I’ve been fostering Pit Bulls since about 1996, even before Chako Pit Bull Rescue became a formal 501(c)(3) nonprofit. As an individual and as part of Chako Pit Bull Rescue’s foster network, I’ve learned a few solid basics about how to be a successful foster. Of course, the following rules don’t represent everything one should do or know to be a successful foster parent. These are just eight important rules I’ve chosen to highlight.

  1. Keep your foster dog separated from your other pets for at least a week.This means no off-leash play, no hanging out on the same bed or couch together, etc. A week is the minimum separation time, but go longer if necessary. You can take your foster dog for short walks with one of your resident dogs, so long as there is only dog being walked by a person at a time (that means you need at least two people); and you should keep about a ten foot distance between dogs during the walk at all times. Make sure each dog is on secure equipment.

    You can separate your foster dog by using a crate or even a very secure baby gate. For the first couple of days, you might even want to put the foster dog in a separate room, in a crate, so he or she can calm down and decompress from the shelter. Of course, take him or her out frequently (and put away your other pets when you do). You can also set up a crate  in the main living area of your home, but you might want to put an ex pen or other barrier around the crate so your resident pets cannot hassle or invade the crate space of the foster dog. This gives your dog a chance to acclimate to the environment, observe you and your pets and how you interact, and start to feel more comfortable that you all are fairly nice beings.

  2. Take lots and lots and LOTS of photos and video of your foster dog. Always have a camera ready. Sure, you’ll probably take 30 terrible shots for every 1 great one, but it’s important to have lots of cute, clear photos that showcase your foster dog’s personality and inherent adorableness. Good photos and video will really help get your foster dog adopted.
  3. If you do start to let your foster dog interact with your resident pet(s), keep the initial interactions short and well-supervised. Make sure you’re familiar with and paying attention to dog body language, and of course, keep dogs on loose but untangled leashes for initial physical interactions. Never force one dog to approach another dog. Let the interaction happen as naturally as possible, but if one dog starts to object or stiffens and seems wary, casually but quickly put distance between the dogs.  If introducing your dog to your cat, on leash is always preferred, and of course, know your cat. You may want to put your cat in a crate or behind a baby gate to see how things go initially. Also be aware that a still cat is very different to a dog than a running cat.
  4. Never let dogs who belong to other people play with your foster dog. You are responsible for keeping your foster dog safe. You can assess what level of risk you are comfortable with for YOUR OWN dogs, but don’t bring other people’s dogs into the interaction with your foster dog. Sure, it may work out nine out of 10 times, but the one time it doesn’t, your actions may very well result in injury to a dog or person, and you’ve likely caused a lot of stress for the agency you’re fostering through.
  5. Keep your foster dog well groomed, especially those nails! A well-groomed dog is a more adoptable dog (and long nails can do bad things to a dog’s feet, legs, and gait).
  6. Do physical inspections of your foster dog at least once a week (check ears, mouth, toes, and run your hands gently over the dog’s body). This assumes, of course, that your foster dog is amenable to such handling. If your dog isn’t, work on that (your rescue or shelter organization can show you how). Check for anything out of the ordinary (bumps, rashes, etc.) and report those immediately to your organization.
  7. Be honest with your organization about the dog’s personality and behavior so they can make the right decisions for your foster dog. Never lie or sugar-coat behavior issues. Rather, work on these issues. Be honest with any potential adopters so your foster dog can find the right forever match. If you lie or sugar-coat issues, your foster dog is likely to be returned as soon as  the adopters realize the foster dog is not for them.
  8. Keep Copies of Records for Your Foster Dog.This is especially true if you’re fostering through a rescue rather than a shelter, but it is helpful regardless (assuming you have access to the records). Keeping records organized and easily accessible means there’s always a copy readily available where the dog is physically located. Sometimes potential adopters have questions about a dog’s medical history, and having the records handy can prove invaluable. In addition, many small rescues have disorganized record-keeping systems since they often cannot afford expensive data management systems, so you can help the rescue by keeping a copy of the record for your foster dog (I even encourage foster providers to take photos of the records after each procedure and store those images on their smart phones, if they have one).